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Stable low temp

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Loving my new KBJ but have found it difficult/impossible to get a fire stabilized at 225 which is my preferred temp for low and slow. Getting and keeping the grill going at 275-300 is no problem but when I try 225-250 I always seem to snuff the fire out.

 

I stir my old charcoal, clean out all of the ash, add new charcoal in a “well” dug into the old (I dig the well down to the charcoal grate), and light the fire in the center. Following recommendations from the forum I keep a much larger load in the firebox then I did at first so I’m not running out of fuel. After lighting I keep the bottom vent full open and dome up for 10-15 minutes then add the deflectors and grates and close the lid. I leave the vents wide open for a short time until the temp hits 150-175 and the smoke clears. I then close the bottom vent to about 1” and top to about half-way between the second and third lines (the first line being closed) to slow the temperature rise. Once the grill is a bit below 225 I need to close the upper vent to half-way between the first (closed) line and second and the bottom vent to between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch otherwise the temp will keep climbing but this is where I snuff the fire. If I add more air to keep the fire going the temp goes up and the lowest I can keep the fire going is 275-300. When I open the vents to get the fire going again during the cook I’ll get the same acrid smoke that you get when lighting the charcoal the first time which, of course, doesn’t taste great. Anyone see what I’m doing wrong here?

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If you don't have a KAB or a KJ ash basket, I would recommend getting one and removing the cast iron grate at the bottom of the fire box. I have a KAB. I clean the ash off the coals and then fill the KAB with lump. I use half of a fire starter in the middle of the lump. After about five minutes, I add the heat deflectors and the grates. I then close the lid and set my top vent to about 1/2 inches open and the top vent the same. As the temp comes up I will colse both vents down to a quarter inch. With this I am able to hold a steady 200*-225* with no problem.

 

Some people on here only use new lump for low and slow so that they don't have to worry about any ash from the old lump. I have never had any problem with that.

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In my Big Joe I, I don't do much different from you. I use fingers to measure vents; the lower vent is set to "pinkie" which measures about 1.5 cm, close to your 1/2-3/4-inch. I leave this alone for the first several hours. I suspect we have different upper vents, mine old and yours new. I find that staying around 225F requires I close the holes down tighter than allows me to stick a 4.5 mm thermometer probe through. Eventually, I'll also close the bottom a little more, but that's only after several hours. 

 

You might try switching to your long-term vent settings at a lower temperature. It's also a good idea to sort out the fines and dust for low temp cooks, so there's better air flow around the fuel. You can use small pieces, just pull from the top of a new bag. Ash baskets help because they hold the fuel away from the sides of the fire bowl, improving air flow substantially. 

 

Try things a little different, experiment and have some fun. It's really hard to hurt the food. 

 

Frank

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Never used the cast iron bottom so I cant give an opinion on that.

Went straight to the basket and have been amazed at the temp holding ability!!!

  While I agree 225 is a little hard to hold but you can do it it just takes letting your fire burn down but than you lose the long smoke,but cooking at 250 is just as good on a Kamado.. I'm sure you noticed the new stick burners are reverse smoke units with fantastic insulation. This mimics the two thousand year Kamado.

    Great fire management, easy to hold temps and moisture holding ability while still allowing air flow to keep the stale smoke from jacking your meat.

 

    I have a CookShack that runs on electric that uses far less wood but poultry comes out like rubber due to lack of dry air and clean smoke,it just circulates the stale smoke over and over while it picks up dirty smoke over and over.

 

   It's for sale...$600 bucks is a bargain....as long as you only want to smoke beef.

Edited by Tex

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I don't think you should have to buy any devices to keep a low temp. More experimentation is in order. The only thing I do differently than what you describe is throw on the garden gloves and remove all the old lump. I use larger chunks of fresh lump on the bottom then top that with the old lump. Never had airflow issues as long as I stick with that, even with very small pieces at the top.

 

I'm curious though, what temp are you at when you say "just below 225?" My Joe favors certain temps (measured on the dome thermometer). It likes to cruise at 220 for slow and low. When I first started learning I was obsessed with hitting and holding at 225 but the KJ insists that 220 is perfect and I just go with that. And my vent settings change slightly with every cook. Sometimes it wants the bottom vent a quarter inch open and sometimes it won't sit low unless I'm under an eighth inch. I don't put the meat until it's settled in and once I do I don't touch the vents again unless it starts running high or clearly isn't getting back up to temp.

 

Also, what brand of lump are you using? I've always stuck with KJ and Royal Oak. Some people talk of lump that burns hotter than other brands so maybe try switching up what you're using. I only remember one time that I managed to accidentally snuff out my fire and my vent settings appear to be smaller than yours which makes me wonder if there's an issue with the quality of your lump.

 

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Thanks everyone for the recommendations. I haven’t had the chance at another low and slow cook but will try some of your tips. I have been considering getting a basket because it sure looks convenient but I know I should be able to hit and maintain 225 without it. I’m using BGE charcoal and the quality seems to be very good but maybe I should try another. To SeaBrisket’s question “just below 225” is between 215 and 220. As for the basket, people seem to have “issues” with both the KJ and KAB. Some don’t like the KJ’s “hooks” and, on Amazon at least, some are complaining that the KAB rusts through within a year but I’m not sure though how Amazon aggregates comments. For instance, you’ll see reviews for the KJ Classic KAB mixed into the section on the Big Joe. I know the KAB has evolved and is supposed to be using fairly large gauge stainless steel now so I’m wondering if the rust complaints are actually for the older style as real stainless should have close to zero rust. Thoughts?

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I used to have a similar problem and solved it by building a smaller fire much more slowly. 

 

I used to light in in a way similar to what you described, but I would keep the vents wide open until about 210 and then shut the vents to “225” settings. The temp would rise just a bit and *seem* to lock right in around my target. This whole lighting process took something like 20 minutes and I kept thinking that the folks who insist that it takes an hour to get the grill ready were nuts. 

 

My problem was was what happened next. When I’d open the lid to put the meat on, the fire would swell and the temp would then rise steadily until it was north of 275 and still climbing. So I’d run outside and start the yo-yo game. Snuff the fire too tight, temp craters, open the vents back up, temp shoots too high, painfully repeat for hours. 

 

I think my mistake was was letting the fire get too big in the beginning. By letting the vents be wide open until 210, I would build the base of a larger fire than I needed. When stopped down, the temp would lock in by snuffing some (but not all) of my coals. The hot, starved coals were sitting there, just waiting for that rush of oxygen that came from opening the lid. When they got their oxygen, they re-lit and the temp went up until I snuffed them again until I fed them again yo-yo-yo-yo.....

 

Now I light the grill, lid open for 10 minutes, drop in all the deflectors and grates and whatnot, close the lid and immediately set the vents just a bit more open than “225” settings. When I actually get to 225 (maybe 45 minutes later), I close the vents just slightly to stop the fire growth. This is working well for me.

 

My theory is, this way the fire builds much more slowly, and never gets established at a larger size than what 225 vents will support. Therefore, an open lid doesn’t have the same effect. 

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Now that sounds exactly like what I’m seeing!  I also get to temperature much faster than an hour so will try the slow build and take my time getting to the temp I want. 

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Agree, start a small fire for a small temp cook.  I start off with a full load of charcoal, heat deflectors and grills in place, and then light it with 2 alcohol soaked cotton balls in the center of the ash tray.  Upper and lower vents wide open until the dome temp comes up to ~190F, then  engage the daisy wheel at 75% and the lower vent to 50% until the dome reads 210F.  Next, put the upper and lower to about 10-15% and let the grill stabilize, usually around 220F.  After that, let it sit there to get everything heat soaked before putting the meat on.  Usually takes 45ish minutes.  

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This frustrates a lot of new owners. I always give these tips

1) clean ash, open vents 

2) I use a looft lighter to light the centre of the lump and try to get the fire burning straight down 

3) with the diffusers and grids either out or warming but not blocking the heat I let the heat go 25 degrees past what I want before adjusting my vents to stabilize 

4) install the heat diffusers in their proper position and add your protein 

 

this approach gets residual heat into the dome and also promotes a downward burn in the lump vs side to side or front to back. In addition to clean smoke I find this simple to follow for repeatable stable temps. 

 

I often cook cook on Sunday and will put on meat, go to church, run errands and return to my cook several hours later with the temps exactly where I set them. No fires that burn out, or run away infernos ... hope this helps. Good luck 

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I can get my joe to sit comfortably at the sub 200f range but it does take a little longer than you'd expect

If you're going for low temps, its much better to build a small fire and let it grow slowly than it is to build a big fire and then try and choke it down to control it

 

Its a bit of trial and error but it can be done if you take your time with it

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13 hours ago, Polar Bear said:

I can get my joe to sit comfortably at the sub 200f range but it does take a little longer than you'd expect

If you're going for low temps, its much better to build a small fire and let it grow slowly than it is to build a big fire and then try and choke it down to control it

 

Its a bit of trial and error but it can be done if you take your time with it

I think the lowest I got my KJC is 200, but it held the temp for the entire cook. I was smoking a round roast to an internal temp of 120* then pulled and rested.

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